MURDER USA: Youngest Member of Murderous Friend Family Conspiracy
Re-Sentenced for Role in Slayings of Truckers
RICHMOND, Va. – A Richmond man was sentenced Jan. 30, 2020, to 52 years in prison for his role in multiple carjacking’s, including two that resulted in the deaths of the truckers who were targeted for their rigs.
According to court documents, Philip Bernard Friend, 36, was the youngest member of an entire family (a mother and her three sons; plus, a cousin and some associates), who created a plan to steal a semi-trailer truck from an interstate trucker.
The ferocious gang planned to travel to McAllen, Texas, where they would pick up a load of marijuana to distribute on the East Coast.
In March 1999, the group attempted to hijack the truck of their first victim, Soren Cornforth, who they found sleeping in his truck as he waited to deliver potatoes from Idaho to a produce company in Richmond. When Cornforth strongly resisted, the Friends shot and killed him without taking his truck.
About six weeks later, the Friends hijacked another independent trucker, John Cummings, stealing his rig. Philip Friend beat Cummings so viciously that he was maimed and lost his ability to work as a trucker.
Two weeks later, in April 1999, the Friend clan carjacked their third victim, an independent trucker named Samuel Lam, murdering him and taking his rig to Texas in search of marijuana.
Friend, who was just shy of 16 years old during this killing spree, originally pleaded guilty in 2000.
High Court Ruled Juvenile Killers Could Not be Sentenced to Life
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a mandatory life sentence, which he received. Years later, Friend’s case was sent back to the district court for resentencing after the Supreme Court held that a mandatory life sentence for a juvenile offender was unconstitutional.
The original resentencing of Philip Bernard Friend was appealed by his attorneys to the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals.
The Appeals Court ruled that the resentencing was incorrect and order new sentencing – which took place on Jan 30, 2020 — and their decision is as follows:
“The appellant is correct that the trial court’s statement explaining its sentence did not adequately address the fact that Philip was 15 years old when he committed the offenses, that he would have had trouble getting away from the influence of his family, and that, consequently, he was less blameworthy than his older brothers who came up with this criminal scheme and committed the killings. This is not to say that the court erred when it took into account the terribly brutal nature of the crimes that were committed with the appellant’s undeniable participation. But it should have been clearer about how it weighed this latter factor against the former. We do not need to address the substantive reasonableness of the sentence imposed.”
“We instead leave the imposition of a sentence to the able offices of the district court upon remand, after the court has had the opportunity to address the appellant’s arguments and explicitly weigh them against the admitted gravity of the various offenses.”
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court is
VACATED and REMANDED
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally-based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and David W. Archey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by Senior U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian R. Hood prosecuted the case.
Recent resentencing of Phillip Friend took place in 2017
Man who was age 15 when involved in the hijacking, killing in 1999 was re-sentenced Monday from a life term to 65 years
On June 12, 2017, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Frank Green updated the story of the resentencing of Phillip
The youngest member of a family of hijackers who killed two truckers and left a third one crippled was resentenced to 65 years in prison Monday.
Philip Bernard Friend, 34, was just 15 when he, two brothers, his mother and others conspired to hijack three trucks, one driven by Soren Cornforth, of Idaho. The Vietnam veteran was shot to death in the cab of his truck parked with a load of potatoes near Loving’s Produce in Shockoe Bottom on March 1, 1999.
At one point during the emotional hearing in federal court, Chris Cornforth, a brother of the victim, turned his attention away from U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, faced the bespectacled Friend sitting at the defense table and told him, “I want you to know I forgive you.”
In addition to Cornforth, the Friend family and accomplices crippled John Wesley Cummings on April 10, 1999. The 65-year-old trucker had stopped at Simmons Truck Stop on Interstate 95 near Emporia when he was abducted in his truck, beaten for six hours and threatened with being frozen to death in the refrigerator unit of his truck.
Philip Friend used duct tape to bind Cummings’ arms, legs, and head, and beat him with a BB gun and fists and kicked him. Cummings lost his sight, his hearing, and his livelihood.
The next victim, on April 25, 1999, was Samuel Lam, born in Hong Kong in 1951.
He was transporting houseplants from Florida to the Northeast when he was approached by his killers at a stop near Fredericksburg. Lam was knocked unconscious, a pillowcase was placed over his head, and his arms and feet were bound with duct tape. As he was lying bound on the floor of the sleeper part of his truck, Philip Friend kicked and beat him.
Lam was driven to a secluded pond at the end of a logging road off Virginia State Route 522 in Louisa County. Lam was alive and begging for his life when he was dragged from the truck to a swampy area. Travis Friend, one of Philip’s brothers, shot Lam seven times. Lam fled but was caught and choked by another brother who attempted to drown him. Lam fled yet again and the killers left him to die in the swamp.
A son, Felix Lam, spoke at Monday’s hearing and said his father was shot, “and left to die like an animal.” He said his mother and brothers did not know what happened to their missing loved one for a year.
Felix told Hudson that he was afraid Friend would attack others if he was ever released. “Do not allow my father’s death to be in vain,” he told the judge.
From THE WASHINGTON POST-July 22, 1999
The investigation began in May, when the Friend brothers were arrested in Georgia after being pulled over for a routine traffic stop while driving in Lam’s truck cab and pulling a trailer stolen in Tennessee. They were on their way back from Texas, where authorities say they had gone to buy a truckload of marijuana but ended up hauling carrots after the drug deal fell through.
According to the indictment, the Friend family – including a minor son and two others who have not been charged – found Lam while they were cruising the northbound lanes of I-95 in search of a target. Vallia Friend and another woman allegedly made sexual overtures to the truck driver and induced him to follow them to a motel parking lot in Fredericksburg.
In the parking lot, authorities said, Friend’s sons and an accomplice abducted Lam, beat him unconscious, loaded him into his truck and drove him to the swamp, where he was fatally shot.
From a court decision on an appeal
UNITED STATES of America
Eugene Lamont FRIEND and Travis McKinnley Friend.Nos. Crim.A. 3:99CR201-01, 3:99CR201-02.
United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division.April 19, 2000.
PAYNE, District Judge.
Eugene Lamont Friend (“Friend”), along with his mother, Vallia Friend, his brother, Travis Friend, and John Doe, were indicted on one count of conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by violence, and two counts of carjacking, one of which resulted in the death of the victim. On October 21, 1999, the United States filed a Notice of Intent to Seek a Sentence of Death for Eugene Friend and his brother, Travis, if either were convicted of Count Three of the Superseding Indictment, which alleged carjacking that resulted in the death of Samuel Lam. In so doing, the United States gave notice, as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3593(a), of its intention to argue several statutory and nonstatutory aggravating factors considered by the United States to warrant the imposition of a sentence of death.
Eugene Friend moved to strike certain of the nonstatutory aggravating factors listed in the Government’s Notice of Intent to Seek a Sentence of Death. A hearing was held on that and other motions. At the conclusion of that hearing, Friend’s motion was granted in part and denied in part and the motion to strike nonstatutory aggravating factor 10 (“Factor 10”) was taken under advisement.
Factor 10 alleged that “Defendant EUGENE LAMONT FRIEND and co-defendant Travis McKinnley Friend discussed killing Charlene Thomas after the murder of Samuel Lam because she was a potential witness against them.” Notice of Intent to Seek a Sentence of Death, at 4. To further understand the “discussion” which is asserted as the predicate for Factor 10, the Court instructed the United States to file a proffer of the evidentiary basis for the factor. In response, the United States explained that, while Eugene and Travis Friend were incarcerated, another inmate overheard the “discussion,” which went like this:
Travis Friend told Eugene Friend that their mother had been arrested. Eugene Friend told his brother that they had to “stick together.” Travis Friend stated, “You know it was that whore” (referring to Charlene Thomas). Travis Friend then said, “they should have gotten rid of her in Texas like I told you.” Eugene Friend responded: “Man, that was my woman.” Travis Friend replied: “Yeah, but this is our mother.” Eugene Friend told Travis Friend that he knew what they had to do now. He told Travis that they had to turn this around. *536 Travis Friend got very upset and began crying about his mother. Eugene Friend repeatedly told Travis Friend that they had to “stick together.” MORE
THE CORNWORTH MURDER
Eugene and Phillip began physically assaulting Cornforth, and then, upon Eugene’s command, Travis used Scruggs’ .380 caliber firearm to kill Cornforth
Scruggs is the cousin of co-conspirators Eugene, Travis, and Phillip Friend, the sons of Vallia Friend. On February 16, 1999, Scruggs assisted Travis and Eugene in the theft of an unattended truck carrying logs. At approximately the same time, Eugene began advancing a plan to steal a truck by force, drive to Texas, pick up a load of marijuana there, and then drive it back to the East Coast.
In furtherance of this plan, on the evening of February 28, 1999, the Friend brothers and Scruggs left the Friend home in an automobile and picked up Eugene’s ex-girlfriend, Jackie Robinson. Scruggs had a .380 caliber firearm in his possession at the time. The group drove to the Shockoe Bottom section of Richmond, Virginia, where Eugene Friend spotted a parked truck. The driver of the truck, Leonard Cornforth, was sleeping inside.
The group parked behind the truck, and the Friend brothers and Scruggs got out and walked toward it, intending to perform the first step of Eugene’s plan-to steal the truck by force. Eugene walked to the driver’s side, Travis and Philip to the passenger side, and Scruggs stopped at the rear of the trailer to act as a lookout. Eugene and Phillip began physically assaulting Cornforth, and then, upon Eugene’s command, Travis used Scruggs’ .380 caliber firearm to kill Cornforth. Because the shooting attracted the attention of passersby, the group gave up on their efforts to steal the truck and returned to their car with several items from Cornforth’s truck. Shortly after the murder, a witness reported seeing Scruggs attempting to sell the .380 firearm.
After the Cornforth murder, Eugene continued to talk about his plans to hijack a truck to drive to Texas for a load of marijuana. Although Scruggs expressed a desire to accompany Eugene on this venture, he was not included in the Friend brothers’ second attempt to steal a truck on April 25, 1999. As with the first attempt, the group (which also included Vallia Friend and Eugene’s new girlfriend, Charlene Thomas) murdered the truck’s driver, Samuel Lam. Unlike the first attempt, however, the Friend brothers’ second attempt to hijack a truck by force was successful. After depositing Lam’s body in a nearby swamp and unloading the truck’s cargo of wholesale house plants in Richmond, the Friend brothers drove Lam’s truck to Texas. According to Thomas, Scruggs was “upset that he didn’t go” to Texas with the Friends. After learning that the Friend brothers had been arrested on their return from Texas, Scruggs sold some of the plants from Lam’s truck and gave others to his girlfriend and mother.